As InfraCo Africa’s Health, Safety, Environment and Social (HSES) Manager, I live and breathe the safety of our workforce and that of the partners and communities with which we work.
HSES is at the heart of InfraCo Africa’s work, and we strive to ensure that it is always front of mind for the entire team. Taking place each year on the 28th of April, World Day for Safety and Health at Work provides us with an opportunity to take stock of how we are doing, and to reflect on the preceding 12 months.
This year, the global theme of the day is ‘creating a positive health and safety culture,’ and I would like to explore this topic with you here. I would also like to recognise the enormous work being done across our portfolio, and that of the wider PIDG, chiefly to prevent incidents, injuries and harm, but also to learn from any that do occur and to share that learning across the Group and more widely.
Why does workplace health and safety matter?
I realise that this question may seem blunt and its answer obvious, but it bears repeating that people have a right to return home safely from work, every time.
Any injury sustained at work is a tragedy for those involved, causing pain, long-term medical problems and financial hardship for the person, their dependents and their wider family. If someone loses his life, that loss is compounded by grief and, as is often the case in the countries in which we operate, the loss of the household’s main source of income. Injuries and accidents, even those which are deemed to be minor, cause loss of time for the individual and colleagues involved in recording and investigating what has gone wrong, something which can impact the productivity of the wider project, with associated delays and loss of revenue.
We tend to be hyper-aware of health and safety in the context of construction sites – where there are undoubtedly risks associated with working at height or in confined spaces, of excavating ground and moving equipment. We may, quite rightly, call to mind safe works methods, risk assessment, hard hats, high-viz jackets and tough boots. We must also recognise that that PPE is considered as the last line of defence and should always be combined with other engineering and administrative controls when risk elimination is not reasonably practicable (Hierarchy of Control Approach).
However, a high number of workplace accidents occur on the roads. 1.35 million people die globally each year as a result of road traffic accidents and, although the data is not disaggregated to specifically identify workplace accidents, we do know that 93% of those fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries, giving us particular cause for concern. Here, we don’t just rely on hard hats and high viz vests, but on better vehicle maintenance, the accurate communication of changing road conditions, and up-to-date training in defensive driving techniques. Ensuring a minimum set of operational safety features leads to a 30% reduction in mortality and morbidity, according to a study of the Transport Research Laboratory looking at the impact of UN regulations on road safety. Periodic technical inspection also decreases the number of vehicles involved in fatal accidents due to technical defects by 50%. Implementing more comprehensive mitigants may save many more.
Furthermore, keeping people safe does not just apply to the prevention of physical injury. Good HSES Management acknowledges and addresses the psychological and financial risks associated with the undermining of workers’ rights; including discrimination, gender based violence and harassment, child labour, and modern slavery. Good HSES management also requires an understanding of the mental health of team members which can be impacted by many factors both within the workplace and away from it.